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Cheating at Statistics: Claims at Klepenino

A common excuse for German inflation of claims is that the battlefield is left to their enemy, so there is no possible way to count how many enemy tanks were lost. However, even on the defensive, the Germans seem to manage to greatly overestimate the damage dealt to the enemy. According to the the 1972 edition of the Deutsches Soldatenjahrbuch, the 561st Tank Destroyer Battalion destroyed 34 Soviet tanks, "nearly all heavy and super-heavy" during their defense of Klepenino between January 29th and February 8th of 1942. Let's take a look at what was happening in the area and what these "super-heavy tanks" really were.

Here is Klepenino on one of the maps of the 30th Army. This map depicts the situation in the second half of February, after the Red Army had moved up a bit, so it doesn't fully tell us who was in the area at the time. However, there are enough plausible suspects that picking out the unit we need isn't too hard: it was the 371st Rifle Division.

"Until 7:00, the division prepared for the attack and at 7:00, along the 70th TBr, moved to attack towards Klepenino and Timontsevo and entered Klepenino at 7:30"

So far so good. Let's see what kind of super-heavy tanks the 70th Tank Brigade had.

14 T-34 tanks and seven T-60s. That's not exactly 34 super-heavy tanks. The brigade quite thorougly lists its losses during the attack on the village. During these early parts of the war it was quite common to hand out tanks to infantry commanders who would have no idea how to use them properly. 

"By 14:00 on January 30th, 1942, the tanks returned from the battlefield to the grove north of Klepenino having taken losses: 7 out of 10 in the 261st Tank Battalion, 2 out of 4 in the 262nd Tank Battalion."

"January 31st, 1942. Orders given to the tanks on January 30th, 1942, are being carried out. During the day, the tanks fought independently near Klepenino to suppress individual strongholds that prevented infantry from moving up. By the end of the day, two tanks out of four were lost. One burned up, one was knocked out."

After heavy losses, the next day allowed for a break in the fighting to reorganize. Some tanks were also repaired, judging by the increased number of T-60s.

"February 1st, 1942. By order of the 30th Army, the 70th Tank Brigade is reassigned to the 363th Rifle Division. At this point, the brigade had two T-34 tanks and 14 T-60 tanks."

Over the next two days, three more tanks were lost: one from a mine and two from ambushes by enemy tanks:

"The attack began at 12:00 on February 2nd, 1942. Tanks fighting alongside the 7th Rifle Regiment continued to fight enemy strongholds that impeded the infantry's advance. At the end of the day on February 2nd, Junior Lieutenant Besov's tank hit a mine and blew up."

"In the second half of the day on February 3rd, three enemy heavy tanks appeared, which were carefully camouflaged in the valley, awaiting our tanks. Our tanks moved to carry out the orders of the commander (two T-34s). As soon as they entered the forest clearing the German tanks shot them up. One burned up and the other was knocked out."

The only tank related action reported on February 4th is that a T-34 is turned over to the infantry division HQ. Only T-60 tanks attack the next day, also to unimpressive results.

"On February 5th, four T-60 tanks attack were used for combined arms action with infantry, but two of them became bogged down in the snow, two more were knocked out. The crew of Senior Lieutenant Fedorov's tank fought valiantly and died the death of heroes."

The results of these repeated assaults are predictable:

"On February 6th, 1942, by decision of the Commander of the 30th Army, the 70th Tank Brigade is withdrawn from battle to restore and repair its vehicles."

The German records also state that there was no tank attack on February 6th or in the days after, confirming that this was the unit in question. Let's total up the losses taken by the 70th Tank Brigade. 9 tanks on January 30th, two on January 31st, one on February 2nd, two on February 3rd and two more on February 5th. That makes up a total of 16 tanks, two of which are credited to enemy tanks (the Germans mention that there were StuGs popping in and out of the battle), so even the full 16 cannot be credited to the tank destroyer unit. In addition, instead of "almost all" tanks knocked out being super-heavy tanks nearly half of them being T-60s, which were not even classified as light tanks, but small tanks. 

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